Tag Archives: Australian history

THIS WRITING LIFE: Spirited – Australia’s Horse Story

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While I was visiting Canberra the other week for the Australian Romance Readers Convention, I was fortunate enough to catch the Spirited: Australia’s Horse Story exhibition at the National Museum of Australia before it closed.

Being horse-mad from birth, I can’t resist the call of anything equine and the museum was only a pleasant stroll around the edge of Lake Burley Griffin from the QT Hotel where the convention was being held. A sunny autumn day, some horsey goodness… perfect.

The museum released a great video of the exhibition which is well worth a look. It certainly got me excited!

It was rather thrilling to be confronted with more video on entrance to the exhibition, this time showing wild brumbies in action. An elderly man, who said he used to help his dad break brumbies, and I stood mesmerised by the footage in warm, horse-loving companionship. We were so entranced we watched the video loop through twice. Even when I left to take in the main exhibits, he stayed on. I don’t think he wanted to leave.

Video still of brumbies at the Spirited exhibition

As expected, the exhibition was a trove of interesting artefacts and information. Look at this: A first edition of The Silver Brumby alongside Elyne Mitchell’s typewriter.

Typewriter used by Elyne Mitchell and a first edition copy of The SIlver Brumby

The first displays were interesting, focusing on colonial life and the important role horses played in the development of the colony and agriculture. Horses were uncommon in the early years of settlement. A few arrived with the first fleet, but according to the museum guide book by 1791 only one stallion, one mare and two colts survived, and horses remained scarce for several decades.

There were some wonderful artefacts on display from Springfield station, near Goulburn, including this magnificent dress harness fitted with the Faithfull family crest.

Carriage harness with Faithfull family crest decoration from Springfield station.

From Burrungurroolong station, also near Goulburn, came this wonderful rocking horse. I would have killed for something like this as a kid. That’s a go-fast rocking horse if ever there was one!

Wooden rocking horse from Burrungurroolong station.

I thought this carved-out log trough was amazing too. Imagine the hard work involved in its creation.

Carved log feed trough.

I also really liked this forging anvil, which was used by blacksmith Samuel Sinclair, who arrived in Bermagui in 1904 to set up shop after having served as a farrier in the Boer War. I know it’s hard to tell from the photo, but this thing was HUGE and weighed 348 kilograms.

Forging anvil.

My favourite display was probably the trophy cabinet. This contained, among other things, the 1866 Melbourne Cup won by The Barb, and is our earliest known intact cup. Initially, the Melbourne Cup was a prize – a gold watch or cash – and the first actual cup was awarded only in 1865, which makes this version particularly precious. The other two trophies are the 1867 Melbourne Cup and Queen’s Plate won by Tim Whiffler. Apparently two horses called Tim Whiffler competed in the Cup that year, with ‘Sydney Tim’ taking the prize, along with the Queen’s Plate two days later.

Ornate Melbourne Cups and Queens Plate

The exhibition had its quirky items too. Moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, here’s Jackson, a toy horse used in the 2007 alternate Birdsville races when an outbreak of equine influenza caused a ban on the movement of horses and shut down the normal event. In typical outback fashion, the show went on, with mock races fielded with stuffed toys.

Jackson, the stuffed toy Birdsville races competitor

And more quirky exhibits. An inkwell made from a horse’s hoof. This makes me think of the snuffbox the British made from Marengo’s hoof, Napoleon’s favourite warhorse, and was presented to the Household Brigade.

Hoof inkwell.

There was even an old horse-drawn dairy carriage, circa 1947, complete with poo (out of shot, unfortunately). One of the plaques told a great story of a bakery horse who was so habitualised that it simply set off on his route when flu kept its driver from turning up to work.

Lincoln Park Dairy delivery cart

This sculpture had so much life, and was (ironically?) surrounded by anatomical specimens, including bits of Phar Lap.

Wire man and horse sculpture

There was much, much more in the exhibition, including information on breeds in Australia, a fascinating video on the use of the whip in horse racing, medals from Olympics and other major events, pony club tales and photos (rah!), and pieces on all the various equestrian sports Australians compete in, from dressage to campdrafting and everything in between.

Definitely worth the visit but for those who missed it, never fear! The National Museum of Australia has pages and pages on its website about the exhibition. There are photos, videos, and deeper stories about horses in Australia. You can spend ages on there. A fantastic resource for those who love horses or are simply interested in our history.

And here’s my souvenir from the exhibition: Hot Chocolate the blow-up wonderhorse. What a steed!


Not quite the real thing but at least he’s house trained, doesn’t eat much, and packs away flat. Sadly, he will never, ever compete with this darling. Not in my eyes.

Cathryn as a little girl with Mysty

My first horse, the romantically named Mysty. Best horse evah. Sigh.

Yep, once a horse-girl, always a horse-girl!


FRIDAY FEAST with Deborah Challinor

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So, my lovely Feasters, how are your Christmas preparations going? Completely disorganised like me? Not to worry, help is at hand. Not only does Friday Feast showcase the best books for presents, we have recipes for foodie gifts too! See, you knew there was a good reason for visiting this blog.

This week I’m absolutely delighted to welcome best-selling historical fiction author Deborah Challinor. A New Zealander, Deborah now lives in Australia where she’s writing a series of novels based around four girls transported to Australia in the 1830’s, and with a PhD in history she knows her stuff!

The first in the series, Behind the Sun, is in bookshops now. Take a look…




BehindSunCoverFinalFour unlikely women … one enduring friendship.

1828: Irreverent and streetwise prostitute Friday Woolfe is in London’s notorious Newgate Gaol, awaiting transportation. There, she meets three other girls: intelligent and opportunistic thief Sarah Morgan, naive young Rachel Winter, and reliable and capable seamstress Harriet Clarke.

On the voyage to New South Wales their friendship becomes an unbreakable bond — but there are others on board who will change their lives forever. Friday makes an implacable enemy of Bella Jackson, a vicious woman whose power seems undiminished by her arrest and transportation, while Harriet is taken under the wing of an idealistic doctor, James Downey. Rachel catches the eye of a sinister passenger with more than honour on his mind.

When they finally arrive on the other side of the world, they are confined to the grim and overcrowded Parramatta Female Factory. But worse is to come as the threat of separation looms. In the land behind the sun, the only thing they have is each other …


How compelling does that sound! And Behind the Sun is available to buy now in Australia from Dymocks, Collins, QBD, Big W, K-Mart and your favourite independent bookseller. Online you can try Booktopia, Bookworld or Fishpond. If you like ebooks, visit Amazon Kindle, Kobo or Google Play.

Now please welcome Deborah.


Fudging it!


There was a time, it seems, when almost all women could cook. Of the four girls in Behind the Sun, Harrie Clarke, Sarah Morgan and Rachel Winter can – Harrie and Rachel because they expect one day to feed husbands, and Sarah because she has to feed herself. Friday Woolfe can’t, though. Before her arrest, she eats out every day at her local London ordinary, which serves bread, cheese, sausage, pickles, eggs and small beer.

It’s ironic, therefore, that I’ve so generously been invited to guest blog on Friday Feast – thank you, Cathryn – because I can’t cook either. I only ever do it when I absolutely have to. When the kids (my step-children, actually) were small and their father was going to be late home from work, I’d try to rustle something up, but never very successfully. In fact, sometimes they’d cry, especially when I made my mystery chicken.

I just can’t see the point. Hours and hours of slaving over a hot stove, ten minutes to eat it, and two days looking at the dirty dishes. Now that the kids have grown up and scattered in all directions, my man and I have an arrangement – he does the cooking, which he enjoys, and I clean up the (stonking great) mess afterwards. If he’s away, I eat yoghurt, tomato on crackers, and chocolate (and maybe an anchovy-stuffed olive, to cover all the food groups). Or if I’m absolutely starving I’ll go so far as turning on the oven and heating up a pie. On the other hand, if I have a deadline looming, I might forget to eat altogether. Except for the chocolate.

Somehow, I missed out on learning to cook. In Girl Guides, I know I got a badge for making a soufflé (and it must have been a good one – those badges aren’t handed out willy-nilly, you know). And I attended Home Economics in Form 1 and 2 and did stuffed tomatoes and the like, but that was about it.

I can, however, make excellent fudge. Here’s my best recipe. It’s a bit of a tedious process, but the end product is rich, velvety and very more-ish. And possibly not for those on a diet.



Swiss Milk Camarel 017

4 oz real butter (not soft versions or blends)

2 measuring cups white sugar (don’t overfill cup)

¼ tin of Highlander sweetened condensed milk (not lite)

1 tsp vanilla essence

½ cup milk

1 dstsp golden syrup

Dump the lot in a saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring constantly. Turn down to a simmer, continuing to stir gently (if it catches you’ll get black bits all through it). When it’s gone a deep, golden tan colour, which will take around 15 minutes, remove from heat and beat with a wooden spoon. When the mixture has thickened noticeably, and is adhering to the side of the pot rather than running down it (NB: if your arm isn’t sore you haven’t beaten long enough), turn out into a dish lined on the bottom with baking paper. Put in fridge, cut before completely set.

Fudge is nice, but my all-time favourite is merengues. Does anyone have an idiot-proof recipe for ones that are crunchy on the outside but soft in the middle? If so, can you please leave in comments? Thank you. Have a fantastic Christmas, everyone!


And a fantastic Christmas to you, Deborah. Thanks so much for coming on Friday Feast and sharing your new release and that delicious-sounding caramel recipe. Anything with condensed milk in it has to be a winner!

So, lovely Feasters, anyone have a great meringue recipe? I have a fantastic pavlova one but I’m not sure if it would create the texture Deborah is after.

If you’d like to learn more about Deborah and her books, please visit her website. You can also connect via her blog and Facebook


THIS WRITING LIFE: Father Woods Park

I’d rather hoped to be posting photos of my glamour-filled trip to Polo In The City, an event held last weekend in Melbourne’s Albert Park but, alas, it was sold out. Nevermind, that gives me the opportunity to post some photos I’ve been meaning to share for ages.

Father Woods Park is situated about 20 kilometres north of Penola in South Australia’s south east – God’s country as we extremely biased born and breds like to call it. I only discovered the park’s existence during the library tour I did around the area back in May, when we zoomed past late one afternoon on our way from Mount Gambier to Bordertown. I was booked for an afternoon talk in Naracoorte later that week and so vowed to call in then for a proper look at the park. It’s a gorgeous place, filled with wonderful vivid timber sculptures that reflect the life of Father Julian Tenison Woods and his close association with Australia’s first Catholic saint, Saint Mary McKillop of the Cross.

I think you’ll see from the images that this is a must-stop attraction if you’re ever in the area. The sculptures are stunning, the location magnificent and it’s a great way to discover a bit of local history.